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Mali president inaugurated in front of thousands

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Leaders from across Africa and France watched the inauguration of Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in front of thousands of his supporters on Thursday as the nation entered a new era of democracy after months of political chaos.

Idriss Deby of Chad, the Ivory Coast's Alassane Ouattara and Moroccan king Mohammed VI were prominent guests among numerous heads of state invited to welcome the new leader, elected by a landslide on August 11.

French President Francois Hollande took centre stage at the 55,000-seat March 26 Stadium in the capital Bamako, with the ceremony drawing a line under military action launched by Paris in January to oust armed Islamists from northern Mali.

"We are at the successful conclusion, because it is a victory, a big victory for Mali that we celebrate together today," Holland said to loud applause.

The ceremony began with Hollande and Keita standing before the Malian flag for the national anthem before Hollande addressed the crowd ahead of musical and cultural performances and military marches.

"We have won this war (but) France has paid a price for the liberation," said Holland, honouring seven French soldiers who died in Mali and paying tribute to troops who were wounded in combat.

He also honoured Mali's soldiers and the "brave Chadian soldiers" who recorded at least 38 deaths during the campaign.

"Today, Mali has carved out its destiny, it has chosen its president," said Hollande, vowing that Paris would remain at its former colony's side and help it on the road to reconciliation.

Deby called for vigilance among the people of Mali and the region, warning that although "terrorists" had been defeated the "gangrene remains and can return at any moment".

Keita pledged to unite Mali and end endemic corruption as he was sworn in on September 4 to lead the deeply-divided west African nation's emergence from months of political crisis sparked by a military coup in March last year.

He gave a much more low-profile speech on Thursday, taking time to thank many of the assembled heads of state and saying Mali was linked by "a pact of honour and a pact of blood to its allies".

He was due to hold a news conference later with Hollande, Deby and Ouattara at the presidency after a lunch banquet for all the invited heads of state and their spouses.

Keita to tackle war-hit economy

Army officers angry at the level of support they had received to combat a separatist Tuareg rebellion in the north overthrew the democratically-elected government of president Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22, 2012.

In the chaos that followed, the Tuareg seized control of an area larger than France before being ousted by Al-Qaeda-linked groups that imposed a brutal interpretation of Islamic law on the local population, carrying out amputations and executions.

Their actions drew worldwide condemnation and their march south prompted France to launch a military offensive in January at Mali's behest to oust the Islamists.

The country's return to relative stability paved the way for Keita to emerge as Mali's new leader in presidential elections deemed the most successful since the country gained independence from France in 1960 and has allowed Paris to begin withdrawing most of the 4,500 troops it sent in.

The son of a civil servant, Keita was born in 1945 in the southern industrial city of Koutiala, the declining heartland of cotton production.

His election in the first presidential polls since 2007 was seen as crucial for unlocking more than $4 billion in aid promised by international donors who halted contributions in the wake of last year's coup.

His daunting workload over the coming months will include tackling an economy battered by political chaos and war, as well as healing ethnic divisions in the north and managing the return of 500,000 people who fled an Islamist insurgency.

Corruption has tainted government institutions and the military in Mali since independence and the country remains in the bottom third of Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.

Mali's new government on Wednesday set November 24 as the date for the first parliamentary elections since the coup.

The return to democracy has been praised by Hollande, who was accompanied by four senior ministers and is expected to hold talks with Keita on security, reconciliation, economic recovery and the fight against corruption during his visit.

Hollande's entourage said he would also hold a mini-summit on the security situation in the Central African Republic with the leaders of Gabon, Chad and Cameroon, the main contributors to an African Union force in the CAR, occupied by rebels since March.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130919/mali-president-inaugurated-front-thousands-1